Creating Cultures of Thinking

Creating Cultures of Thinking: Ron Ritchhart Addresses Lawrence Faculty

We were privileged to have Ron Ritchhart speak to the entire faculty during the week before vacation. Ron is Senior Research Associate at the Harvard Graduate School of Education’s Project Zero.  He is also the author of three books, including “Making Thinking Visible” and “Creating Cultures of Thinking.”  These two books have been at the center of recent work at Lawrence to develop habits of mind related to thinking.  Prior to addressing the Lawrence faculty, Ron led a small group session with some of the district’s curriculum coordinators and ECS teachers.

Ron opened his keynote address by asking, “What do we want our children to be like as adults?”   Most of the responses fell under what he calls “dispositions” (reflective, imaginative, creative, curious, etc.).  Ted Sizer refers to these as the “residuals” of education – what we remember after we have left the classroom.  Ritchhart argues these dispositions or “enduring traits” are best learned by “immersion in a culture.”

Ron offered this definition of what he means by culture of thinking:  “Cultures of thinking are places in which a group’s collective, as well as individual, thinking is valued, visible and actively promoted as part of the regular, day-to-day experience of ALL group members.” He went on to elaborate on the highlighted words in this definition.  He suggested that learning is consequence of thinking and, therefore, thinking must be emphasized for all students.  He reminded us, “Learning occurs at the point of challenge.”

Ron closed his presentation by emphasizing that cultures of thinking is not a program.  Rather it is what we do every day to create such a culture in our classrooms and in our school.

Earlier this year, I have written in this space describing some of our work around cultures of thinking. In September, I wrote about why we were focusing on a culture of thinking at Lawrence:

Clearly, thinking is at the core of teaching and learning.  This work is closely connected to our school goal to cultivate habits of mind. The goal includes providing explicit instruction in and expanding the intentional use of habits of mind.   The phrase “habits of mind” refers to the thinking skills, dispositions and character at the heart of life-long learning. Helping students develop these habits of mind is part of our school vision, as well as Brookline’s strategic plan goal: “Every student prepared for change and challenge.”

In October, I wrote about the use of language, one of the eight forces that Ron identifies as shaping a culture of thinking.

“Ritchhart describes the subtle power of language to reinforce a culture of thinking.  For example, do we focus on the learning involved or on the work to be completed?   Even the pronouns we use make a difference. The use of the first person plural pronoun signals an inclusive learning experience whereas the third person pronoun introduces what Ritchhart calls “an anonymous outsider” in the classroom (Compare: “We are going to look for patterns in solving these problems.” to  “What are they looking for in this problem?”). Ritchhart also reminds us the power of noticing and naming:  “Noticing when and where students are thinking and specifically naming the thinking being demonstrated is a key move that teachers, parents, and mentors can use to develop awareness, direct attention and reinforce processes.” 

In February, I described our work with Jessica Ross, one of Ron’s associates from Project Zero to explore the use of “thinking routines” as a tool to develop thinking:

For the past couple of years, a number of teachers have been experimenting with the use of thinking routines in the classroom. Why thinking routines?   According to Jessica Ross, our visiting consultant from Harvard Graduate School of Education’s Project Zero, “Thinking routines help students develop a disposition for thinking by routinely engaging in specific patterns of behavior… Teachers have been working in small groups with Jessica Ross to identify which routines are most effective for a particular age and to plan how to incorporate these routines into existing units of study.

I am thrilled that we had the opportunity to hear from Ron Ritchhart directly. His remarks provided us with a framework around which to reflect on our work this year – and in the future.  His deep thinking and experience with this work are evident in his books, but were truly inspirational in person.

Rick Rogers

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